Utah senators mixed attitude to immigration bill

FILE - This Jan. 31, 2013, file photo, Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, questions former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, President Obama's choice to lead the Pentagon, during his confirmation hearing before the committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. Utah's two Republican senators have had mixed reactions to the comprehensive immigration bill introduced last week in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Orrin Hatch helped hammer out an agreement for agriculture workers under the bill and says he wants to support the measure but has some concerns. But Sen. Mike Lee says he can't support the bill as long as it includes a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Utah’s two Republican senators have had mixed reactions to the comprehensive immigration bill introduced last week in the U.S. Senate.

Sen. Orrin Hatch helped hammer out an agreement for agriculture workers under the measure and says he wants to support the measure but has some concerns.

But Sen. Mike Lee says he can’t support the legislation as long as it includes a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally.

A U.S. Senate committee in the nation’s capital on Monday heard a second day of testimony on the measure that seeks to secure the border, provide a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally and allow tens of thousands of high- and low-skilled foreign workers into the U.S. on new visa programs.

Lee participated in early negotiations with the bipartisan working group that crafted the broad immigration proposal. But he ultimately walked away, saying he couldn’t support a guest worker component.

If border security was the priority, Lee said he might consider supporting a guest worker proposal.

The immigration bill is also too broad, Lee said.

He instead argues the country’s immigration system should be tackled with many targeted bills rather than one sweeping proposal.

“It’s a complex puzzle with dozens of interconnected pieces. And just like the puzzles that we all put together as children, some of the pieces can’t be incorporated until others are already in place,” Lee said Friday according to a transcript of the first day of hearings on the measure.

The issues are too complex to be analyzed or discussed in one or two hearings, he said.

“The process of reform will have to be considered and implemented in stages of the course of many years,” Lee said.

Hatch hasn’t called for lawmakers to hit the brakes as much as Lee has, but he has said the 844-page proposal should be thoroughly vetted with enough time for the public to weigh in.

During the opening hearing Friday, Hatch told his fellow lawmakers, “I want to support this bill if I can,” according to the Senate record obtained by The Associated Press.

Hatch said he’s concerned the legislation doesn’t move quickly enough to increase the availability of visas for highly skilled workers and would burden corporations as they seek to move or recruit employees in a global economy, among other concerns.

Hatch introduced a separate bill in January to tackle that issue. That bill, which is awaiting a committee hearing, would expand access to the visa program for those highly trained workers, he said.

Despite his concerns with those areas of the broad bill, Hatch has said he’s pleased to have helped to shape parts of the legislation that create a new visa program for agricultural workers.

The existing visa program “is underutilized due to how arduous and bureaucratic” both agricultural employees and employers find the system, he said Friday.

Despite contributing to the bill, Hatch said he still needs to review the full implications of the rest of the proposal before he decides whether he’ll support it.

Former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff testified in support of the legislation in Washington, D.C., on Monday and applauded lawmakers for pulling together broad components and tackling the issue, which he called a “moral imperative.”

The legislation not only addresses public safety concerns such as enforcement, but it tackles the associated issues such as worker visas that contribute to the country’s overall immigration problem, he said.

“The entirety of the bill is about fixing a system in order to reduce illegal immigration,” Shurtleff said.

Hearings on the legislation are scheduled to continue Tuesday, when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is expected to testify.

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